Video games are not foreign to San Diego Comic-Con. For years now, game publishers and companies have invested in grand booths to showcase upcoming games. Over in the northern wing of the San Diego Convention Center, amongst the Xbox, Nintendo, and Sony booths was EA’s PopCap booth.
While PopCap did not bring any games to play or demo, throngs of fans crowded the booth to check out custom giant Munny figures and to purchase exclusive PopCap merchandise.
Amidst the chaos of Comi-Con however, I was able to speak with PopCap’s Franchise Business Director, Tony Learner, to discuss their upcoming mobile game, Plants vs. Zombies 2.
The original PvZ game was an enormous hit (specific sales figures are unavailable, but a representative for PopCap has confirmed that PvZ has a more than 125 million install base). Originally published on PC and Mac in 2009, then later developed for consoles and mobile platforms, this title featured addictive tower defense gameplay and a whimsical zombie theme.
Unlike the original PvZ title, PvZ2 is a “freemium” game, which means that the base game is free, but there are items that can be purchased within the game to expand the gameplay experience, or to advance in the game more quickly. More on this in a bit.
In terms of the story, the writers at PopCap haven’t lost sight of the quirky charm that helped make this franchise so popular among gamers of all ages. The premise is that Crazy Dave, having defeated the zombie horde, must go on a quest, bending space and time, so that he could relive a historic moment in his life – to relive eating an amazingly tasty taco.
Crazy Dave’s miscalculation somehow leads him to ancient Egypt, a pirate world, the wild west, and other places. And of course, in each of these worlds, he must defeat the hordes of zombies that populate them. Each world has numerous levels, and Learner said that additional worlds are planned to be released as free downloadable content.
The core gameplay has been largely untouched in this sequel, but there are new plants, zombies (including a Yeti that drops currency, and a zombie chicken that carries zombies over obstacles), and features that elevate the hectic and frantic gameplay. In addition to the sun-collecting economy, coins and plant food are dropped by zombies.
Coins are a new form of currency to this series, and are spent on different gesture attacks. One particular gesture allows a player to pinch off the heads of zombies, at the cost of some coins. Another gesture zaps lightning onto zombies.
PvZ2 introduces plant food, dropped by green-glowing zombies. Plant food can be accumulated and spent on short power-ups on plants in the playing field. Each plant has a different ability when super-powered with plant food, but the superpower only lasts for a few seconds.
Also new to PvZ gameplay are levels that are accessible only by using keys. Keys are randomly dropped by zombies throughout the levels.
As you might imagine, players can purchase coin packs and keys using actual money through in-app purchases, but Learner said that players can progress through the game entirely without spending any money.
Every aspect of the game is accessible for free, with the exception of six plants. These plants cannot be earned or unlocked with in-game currency – they must be purchased with real money in order to access them. It should be noted that the free game includes old and new plants, and the additional content that may be purchased also includes a mix of both old and new plants.
Learner indicated that PopCap and EA are still examining what the proper price point in the US should be for these plants, but in Australia, where the game has already launched, the plants apparently cost $2.99 (Australian dollars) each, bringing the total purchase price to just under $18 for the complete PvZ2 experience. This of course, does not take into account any potential plants that may be made available to purchase in the future (although Learner did not comment on any such plans, the stage is certainly set for additional plants later on).
Thankfully, PvZ2 does not include a timer or cooldown mechanic that many recent freemium games have adopted. A cooldown timer keeps gamers from playing for a period of time unless they use in-game currency, or real money. Without this mandatory cooldown, gamers can freely enjoy PvZ2 without interruption.
PvZ2 is going to be a huge hit since it adds a great deal to the original core game, with new plants, zombies, worlds, gestures, and most particularly because it will be free. However, it is going to be interesting to see how the market and gamers react to the aforementioned purchasable plants.
Look for Plants vs. Zombies 2 to be released sometime this summer for iOS devices.